UPDATE: The Village Church has apologized and reconciled with Karen Hinkley, admitting wrongdoing and pledging to review all policies related to this situation.
When I compared the people who rejected Jesus with the people who accepted Jesus for a recent book project, there is one stark difference between the two.
Those who rejected Jesus had systems of religious practices and theological constructs to rely on and defend. When Jesus came to fulfill the law, impart the Spirit, and offer access to God outside of religious authorities, they saw him as a threat.
Those who accepted Jesus were generally the sinful outsiders who had little to no previous connection with God. They had been rejected by the religious institutions and the leaders who controlled the insiders and outsiders. They didn’t rely on laws or rules to get in with God. They were no doubt living in sin, but they also didn’t have a false sense of connection with God. They were ready to receive God’s genuine freedom, not a man-made counterfeit based on proof-texting and laws.
I’ve been following a recent series of events involving a missionary named Karen Hinkley affiliated with The Village Church in Dallas, a congregation that is led by Matt Chandler. Chandler, it should be noted, leads the Acts 29 Network, a church planting network that had long been affiliated with well-documented spiritual abuser Mark Driscoll until Driscoll’s misdeeds became too much of a liability.
I’ll offer a brief summary of the situation involving the Village Church. Karen (now Hinkley) and Jordan Root were serving as missionaries, Jordan confessed to viewing child pornography (and later admitted to abusing young girls when he was underage), Jordan also has a long history of being in situations with young, vulnerable children, Karen opted to annul the marriage and leave Jordan, the Village Church disagreed with Karen and placed her under church discipline, Jordan is allegedly a member in good standing because he “repented” despite his history of lying, Karen is under church discipline, and The Village Church has denied her request to terminate membership.
Karen has pleaded with The Village Church to be more forthcoming about the details surrounding her husband and has asked them to work diligently to uncover any inappropriate contact he may have had with children as proof of his repentance.
Rather than apologize for the creepy, cult-like “denial” to Karen’s letter terminate her membership, The Village Church dug in further and sent a rather terrifying self-justifying letter in which the church leaders described Karen as a covenant member who must abide by the counsel of her church leadership and work to restore her marriage. The biblical proof-texting in this letter is unfeeling and almost robotic. Any sense of empathy or common humanity evaporates so long as Bible verses can be piled up.
It’s as if Jesus said: “A new commandment I give to you, that you proof text one another: just as I have proof texted you, you also are to proof text another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you proof text one another.” John 13:34-45, New Village Church Translation.
The Village Church has an allegedly air-tight, biblical rationale for everything, and that is their biggest problem. They can justify unreasonable expectations about exercising control in the lives of their so-called “covenant members” because they honestly believe they have the Bible behind them. They see themselves as the direct messengers of God who have correctly discerned the authoritative Word of God, and any disagreement with the “God-appointed” elders is a direct offense against God. How else can you explain such a heavy-handed, laborious response to Karen Hinkley when all they had to do was say, “Good bye”?
I would much rather start out at square one as an atheist or unrepentant sinner than place myself under the spiritual abuse, distortion of scripture, and controlling leadership of The Village Church. Honestly, such a closed, tightly regulated system will eventually fail many people eventually any way, so you may as well start out with a blank slate spiritually.
You won’t see your need for a savior if you’re constantly looking at the ways that the Bible makes you right.
While in seminary and in the years following, I have continually been challenged by the words of Jesus about this error: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40, ESV).
It’s not that The Village Church can’t preach the Gospel or hasn’t led people to salvation. It’s that the Village Church ties on burdens that people cannot bear and distorts or obscures the message of the Gospel with man-made laws. The Village Church leadership has a clean cup on the outside with shining scripture verses, but they distort a filthy inside that is rooted in over-reaching leadership and a lack of emphasis on love for the sake of being as “biblical” as possible. They have strained so hard at the gnats of “biblical leadership” and “biblical eldership” that they have overlooked the more basic commands to love one another.
I have been in conservative churches where these unhealthy dynamics have lead to spiritual abuse, judgment, severed relationships, and division. There is no doubt that people who are new to the Gospel without such a background are far better prepared to receive the Gospel. I’ve personally detoxed from negative church experiences for years and watched many friends do the same.
For every time I hear someone point to the “souls saved” by The Village Church or the Acts 29 Network, I’ll point them to the many friends I know who have either left the faith or struggled mightily for years to find peace with God after being exposed to such toxic theology and leadership.
I know that such a provocative post title must be difficult to read for people affiliated with The Village Church or who have benefitted from the work of Matt Chandler. I don’t write such words lightly. It’s my sincere hope that a post like this helps us have frank conversations about what healthy and unhealthy churches look like.
Most importantly, it’s my hope and prayer that the Village Church leadership rethinks the way it overreaches into the lives of covenant members. If they persist in their ways, I fear that they’ll be receiving a lot more requests to terminate covenant membership. Will they continue to deny the right of covenant members who disagree with them to leave?
25 thoughts on “I Would Rather Be an Atheist Than Attend the Village Church”
Excellent reply to a nasty situation.
You wrote “They see themselves as the direct messengers of God who have correctly discerned the authoritative Word of God, and any disagreement with the “God-appointed” elders is a direct offense against God. How else can you explain such a heavy-handed, laborious response to Karen Hinkley when all they had to do was say, “Good bye”?”
How else can it be explained? I’ll take a shot at that:
They see themselves as leaders within the church of Jesus Christ. The take their role and the responsibilities that come with it very seriously. They know the word and try their best to apply it faithfully to all situations no matter how difficult or unpopular. Refusing to submit to authority as agreed upon within the covenant is flat out verifiable sin and is an offense to God as is all sin. Good bye was the easy way out. These leaders know they will answer to God as to how they lead the flock he entrusts to them.
John, your comment has falsely equated church discipline and accountability to God with the controlling and spiritually abusive leadership at the Village Church. Yes, we want leaders to hold people accountable and to challenge them in areas of sin. I don’t think anyone would be writing about this even if the leaders of the Village disagreed with Karen and left it at that. The issue is that the leaders believe they have a God-given right to dictate what happens in a marriage and told a member that she cannot leave. Those two overreaches are the issue. That’s not accountability. That’s control, and that has nothing to do with Jesus or the Bible.
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JA: “Refusing to submit to authority as agreed upon within the covenant is flat out verifiable sin and is an offense to God as is all sin”
Please reference a scripture please (to support this nonsense)….
Wasn’t she in “good standing” when she asked to leave or am I missing something? According to everything I’ve read, including statements directly from the church, she didn’t “fall out of good standing” until after she submitted her formal request to leave. Moreover, it appears to be by autocratic dictate that placed her not in “good standing”. I’d have left, too.
Ed, Thanks for the reply. I didn’t disclose my first name in my post so I assume you extracted that from the email address I provided. No big deal, I will give you the benefit of the doubt there.
One side note; I hesitate to state what others “believe” unless they have specifically said so. Only God knows the heart. I don’t believe any leader at TVC would say they have a “God given right to dictate” anything and I have never heard any of them say anything close to that. If they haven’t said it how do you know what they believe?
What the leadership of TVC has indeed said is that Karen agreed by signing the covenant to include church leadership in an effort to reconcile her marriage before pursuing dissolution of it. So I would say, they have a “Karen given” right to walk with her through this.
I also know they will let her leave after in due time if she continues to refuse to submit to the authority which she agreed to.
An unbiblical, B.S. membership covenant is still an unbiblical, B.S. membership covenant whether or not someone signs it.
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Hmmm, Ok, I see. That right there is our real issue. She didn’t seem to think it was “unbiblical BS” when she signed it.
Here are some excerpts and a link. Readers decide for yourself:
The primary purpose of this covenant is to serve as a teaching document with three functions:
To clarify the biblical obligations and expectations for both the elders of The Village Church and the individual members of The Village Church body.
To establish teaching and doctrinal parameters for The Village Church body.
To serve as a tool for reflection and growth toward holiness.
A covenant is generally defined as “a written agreement or promise usually under seal between two or more parties especially for the performance of some action.”1 Within the Scriptures, we find a number of examples of covenants, some between God and man (Genesis 6; Genesis 9; Genesis 15; Ezekiel 20; Hosea 2; Jeremiah 31; Matthew 26), while others are solely between men (1 Samuel 18, 2 Samuel 5). In some covenants, one party binds his or herself to fulfill the obligations of both sides of the agreement. In others, the parties are reciprocally bound to adhere to the obligations. While God’s covenant with the Church universal is an example of the former, the local church covenant represents the latter.
The elders covenant…to care for the church and seek her growth in grace, truth and love ….to lovingly exercise discipline when necessary, for the glory of God, the good of the one disciplined and the health of the church as a whole
I covenant…I will seek to preserve the gift of marriage and agree to walk through the steps of marriage reconciliation at The Village Church before pursuing divorce from my spouse (Matthew 19:1-12; Mark 10:1-12; Luke 16:18; 1 Corinthians 7:10-11; for the role of the church in the process of divorce, see Paul’s concern for the resolution of legal matters within the assembly of the church in 1 Corinthians 6).
JA: I might suspect you are a VC member? I think I can speak for most women and state that if I discovered only a few yrs into my marriage that my husband had a serious child porn addiction (that pre-dated our marriage) AND also sought out opportunities to work with children, then YEAH – I would file for an annulment and put that in my rear view window. What everyone is overlooking here is that Karen is a victim, Jordan Root is a criminal (yes even just looking at child porn is a crime) and based on the biblical reasons for divorce (sexual immorality) she had MORE than enough biblical reasons to anul, or even divorce. But then again that opens up a whole new can of worms for divorced people at TVC, doesn’t it? Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. What TVC is doing is abusive, controlling, and has nothing to do with ‘loving Karen’ – it’s about sticking a piece of paper in her face and telling her she has no choice but to submit to a board of elders, who want her to reconcile with a child predator.
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I’m confused. You have to sign a form to be a member, after reading a book? So, if you can’t read, you can’t be a member? If you can’t write, you can’t be a member? What if you have special needs and can’t understand any of that?
What happened to the church encouraging and supporting each other without fear of disappointing the leadership?
Even if this whole situation was erased, I don’t understand the checklist for joining a body of believers.
I think it’s sad to force a person to stay in a marriage when they’ve been deceived, simply because you signed something. Did she sign the paper before she knew his full history? If so, it shouldn’t be valid due to fraud.
Before I get possibly yelled at, this is just my opinion, based on what I’ve just read. I truly am curious…
TVC has a long history of being deceitful.
Great post, Ed. I’m with you all the way. Thank you
I’m confused how someone could think this is newsworthy. Matt Chandler has the right to run the church in a way he sees fit. You all think you know the story but I’m sure we don’t have all the details. I know many staff there (I do not attend) and have found all of them to be of the highest character.
I also know of someone else on staff there and they were disciplined. At first they were demoted and felt the treatment was harsh. After the window of discipline was over they were promoted beyond the position they lost. They’re so thankful for that decision because they learned so much. Discipline helps- not hurt.
I’d say tap the brakes before fingers are pointed at how they handled the matter because running a church isn’t easy.
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The Village Church is a model that other churches look to, follow, and copy. I’ve worked in a church and I’ve been to seminary and know lots of pastors. I know how this works. So if a church embraces toxic practices that could distort the Gospel and even potentially create a safe haven for abuse, then I can’t not speak out against it because I don’t want any other lives to be ruined. If this was just about one little church standing by itself, it would not be newsworthy. This is a major, influential church. Just because there are good people there and just because you have an anecdote of positive discipline doesn’t mean the system and theology isn’t deeply flawed and potentially destructive. I know lots of lovely, kind people who attend fundamentalist churches who stand up for theology that is flawed and potentially destructive. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t call out the system.
I also find it deeply ironic that the minute someone blows the whistle on a church that has potentially acted rashly and unwisely, people say, “Woah, woah, woah, slow down, don’t rush to judgment! Stop attacking fellow believers” And of course that line of reasoning is PRECISELY what we’re asking the church to do. If the church in question had followed your suggestion, this could have been a very different situation.
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“If they haven’t said it how do you know what they believe?”
Now, forgive me if you disagree, but I think you know more about what a person believes through their actions than their words.
I know more about what a toaster does than just by what I see looking at it’s outside. I could tell you all day long that the box for this toaster said it could butter your toast while its baking, but when you go to use it, you’ll see that the appearance I’ve set up for my toaster doesn’t match what it actually does.
In the same way, I can vow to be a follower of Jesus and be known as his disciple by my love, but when I go to live out his commands like I say I ought to, you’ll see that the appearance I’ve set up for my spirituality doesn’t match what it actually does.
Just to clarify that this is a comment in reply to “JA.”
The Village Church is not the only Dallas area mega-church with a similar ‘membership covenant’, along with some strange views on marriage reconciliation – Watermark Community Church operates the same way. I’ve heard stories of divorced people wanting to remarry, but Watermark told them not to because unless their ex-spouse had died or remarried, they were to continue to pursue reconciliation, regardless of the reason for divorce. I had never heard of such a thing and it sounds very controlling to me. If someone gets a divorce because of adultery or abandonment, they are free to marry again.
I would suggest that those who think Karen was out of line go to the Watch Keep blog and Wartbug Watch blog to find out the truth. There, Karen expresses what really happened in detail. And by the way, Jordan never came forward of his own volition about his child porn addiction. Karen had to drag it out of him. And then after they had both returned to the States, Karen wanted to work with the elders and Jordan to arrange for the two of them to have separate finances. The elders disagreed with this approach basically saying that separate finances seems too much like a measure leading to divorce. When Karen asked why it was that they interfered with the process going through, the elders made a statement to her to the effect that it is their responsibility to be involved in *all* aspects of her marriage – even financial ones. The members at TVC weren’t notified of Jordan’s child porn addiction until 3 months after Jordan had returned to the Dallas campus, even though SIM, the missionary organization the Roots were employed by, advised TVC to alert the church members immediately. There is so much more to this story. Please go to the blogs I referenced above. The more TVC digs their heels in, the worse it will get for them.
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Matt Chandler, The Village Church offer apology to Karen Hinkley: http://matthewpaulturner.com/2015/05/28/matt-chandler-the-village-church-offer-apology-to-karen-hinkley/
Thanks for sharing the link. I was just about to post an update.
All I can say it, at least they released her from church membership. As for the apology, it sounds like damage control. But, at least she is free from it….
Yeah, I agree there is a lot of damage control. It is a step in the right direction at least.
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